A   F E A T U R E   F I L M   S C R E E N P L A Y

When Albert, a 15-year-old Mexican-American musician, finds out his grandmother in Mexico is dying, he defies his parents and sets out alone on an adventure by foot, train, and open road to reach Guadalajara. An unlikely friendship with Rafael, a burnt-out 35-year-old Mariachi trumpeter, takes both of them on a journey to carve out their unique identities and confront their self-worth.

El Niño Perdido is a love letter to Los Angeles and Mexico and the rich cultural heritage that they share. With beautiful photoraphy and an intimate, personal tone, this film can capture the city streets, landscapes, sunsets, open roads, sordid alleys, and open skies of the southwest. From the start of his journey in Van Nuys to the final Mariachi performance in Guadalajara, El Niño Perdido is bursting with color, grit, and spirit.

Albert (15) was born and raised in between. He's too Mexican for his friends and too American for his family — as if teenagers need it to be any harder to figure out their identity. He feels like a stranger in his home: his cousin clowns on him for being a gringo and his parents pressure him to focus on academics. But his passion for the trumpet and his dream of performing with his band occupy his thoughts. His Grandmother, Abuela, is the only genuinely supportive pillar in his life, albeit from a distance — she lives in Guadalajara. 
When Albert learns that his Abuela is terminally ill, he decides that, since his parents can't cross the border and his grandma can't come to the states, it's his familial duty to go be with her. His parents adamantly refuse — he's only 15 and can't travel by himself — but he ignores them and runs away from home. An adventure through LA public transport and a train to San Diego brings Albert to the border...  
He crosses into Mexico, only to soon realize that Guadalajara is a long way from Tijuana. He didn't think this through — he's stuck in Mexico with a long way to go.

In Tijuana, Albert meets Rafael, a down-and-out, alcoholic Mariachi trumpeter, who initially brushes Albert off, but reluctantly looks out for him for the night. He’s not much of a role model: he drinks heavily and isn’t exactly friendly. Albert manages to hitch a ride with Rafael and his Mariachi band to Mexicali for a gig the next day. It’s not far, but it’s in the right direction. After a heated argument with his band, Rafael deserts his bandmates — and almost leaves Albert behind. Rafael passes out, leaving Albert behind the wheel of his van. Albert decides to head further away from Tijuana, towards Guadalajara. Rafael wakes up in the middle of nowhere, furious at Albert for the stunt. Rafael realizes there isn’t much for him back in Tijuana anyway, and agrees to carry on with Albert. 
Their road trip comes alive as they bond over music, talk about their families, and even share Albert’s first beer together. Albert is almost to his Abuela and has a new friend to help show him the way. Their progress quickly comes to an end as increasing logistical obstacles and interpersonal conflicts emerge. Albert and Rafael part ways in a heated argument, and Albert eventually falls into the hands of Officer Santos, a Mexican police officer who had been tracking him as a missing person.

Just before Albert is sent home to Los Angeles, a fight with his cousin Primo compels him to chaperone Albert to go see his dying grandmother. Albert finally makes it to Guadalajara and into the presence of his Abuela. Tragically, she is in a coma, but simply being in her presence is a powerful experience for Albert. Rafael also ended up in Guadalajara and fell in with a Mariachi band that performs at El Parian Plaza in Tlaquepaque — the fabled stage that he felt unworthy to step foot on. 
At the end of Rafael’s concert, Albert surprises him by arranging to play the trumpet solo for El Nino Perdido, the song he learned from Rafael, in a grand performance that neither could have imagined mere days ago. Abuela’s final wish for Albert to perform music from his heart is granted, whether she is conscious of it or not. Albert heads back home to Los Angeles, to reuinite with his family, but promises he will be back to visit Mexico again.

El Niño Perdido is a road trip coming-of-age film that explores themes of identity, immigration, family, and creativity. From LA to Tijuana to Guadalajara, the film explores the unique landscape and Chicano culture of Southern California and Northern Mexico — full of friendship, family, mariachi, racist gringo assholes, and cervezas.
Some films that capture a similar spirit and explore similar themes are The Farewell, Minari, Y Tu Mamá También, Coco, Peanut Butter Falcon, Tiger Tail, and A Better Life.

“Like Albert in El Niño Perdido I’m kind of a pocho — a pejorative term for a Mexican who grows up outside of Mexico. I never felt like I was enough. I’m not American enough, and I’m not Mexican enough. Or, I’m simultaneously too American and too Mexican. Depends who you ask. It’s an issue many Latinos struggle with. We’re trying to find an identity and a place to belong. Sometimes we get a little lost, but we all find our way somehow.”
Robert Montes

“Growing up in  a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley, Mexican culture has always been familiar and fascinating to me. After having traveled to Guadalajara, Tijuana, and Mexico City, and experiencing the character of the country that I had grown up around, I was inspired to bring a story to life that explored the connection between Southern California, Mexico, and the families that keep those connections alive.”
Vince Robbins
Back to Top